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Australia bushfires: Canadian backpacker describes being stranded, fearing for her life

January 7th, 2020 | | backpacker

Canadian woman Dané le Roux came to Australia for a dream backpacking trip around the country.

Four months later, she was huddled on a beach, under an “apocalyptic” blood-red sky, with her only escape from a raging bushfire to jump in the ocean and swim away.

She feared for her life.

The 24-year-old was in the NSW south coast town of Bermagui when the ferocious fire hit.

She had moved there for a job opportunity to complete regional work required to extend her visa.

Prior, le Roux had soaked up the sun on some of Australia’s best beaches, visiting the Victorian coast.

Frantic message

Early on New Year’s Eve morning, there was a banging on her door.

It was her work manager.

The message was abrupt: “We need to get out, now. Start packing up your stuff’.”

Le Roux was told the wait to be collected but be ready to go.

The view from the beach Bermagui on the NSW south coast as a bushfire approached this week.
The view from the beach Bermagui on the NSW south coast as a bushfire approached this week. Credit: Dané le Roux/Supplied

It wasn’t difficult to realise what the problem was.

“It was pitch black at 5.30am, but at 10.30am I couldn’t see anything,” she told 7NEWS.com.au.

“It looked like it was 2am. It was raining ash.

“There was a like a sleet of ash on the ground. Everything was covered in ash.”

The news was not good. She was stranded.

“We couldn’t leave. The fires were all around Bermagui,” she said.

Canadian backpacker Dané le Roux's view of the Bermagui beach during a bushfire.
Canadian backpacker Dané le Roux’s view of the Bermagui beach during a bushfire. Credit: Dané le Roux/Supplied

The wind turned in her favour in the afternoon and she believed there may have been an opportunity to leave.

“But then they changed back and we found out it was only like five kilometres from us,” she said.

“It was all around us.

“They told us to stay at the beach because if the fire comes close, you can go in the water and start swimming.”

They brought in the new year on the beach.

Backpacker Dané le Roux took this selfie as a bushfire threatened the town she lives in, Bermagui in NSW.
Backpacker Dané le Roux took this selfie as a bushfire threatened the town she lives in, Bermagui in NSW. Credit: Dané le Roux/Supplied

She and her three friends had no electricity, no water, no phone reception and no fuel.

People were suffering headaches from the smoke.

“On New Year’s Eve, we shared a bottle of wine, talking about what we’re grateful for in life,” she said.

“We didn’t really sleep a whole lot.”

The next day, they were in a holding pattern. They went fishing to pass the time.

“We still didn’t have drinkable water or electricity,” she said.

‘We couldn’t leave. The fires were all around Bermagui.’

“We’d only turn our phones on once a day to try to get service. We found a little service on a hill so we would tell our families we were safe.”

Evacuation warning

There was another warning on Wednesday evening.

“They told us fire’s coming back on Saturday – 46C and very windy – and that we needed to get out,” she said.

They met a group of people who had a bus and agreed to take them out.

That group decided to leave early, without le Roux and her friends.

The next plan was to get one of their bosses to drive them to Cobargo 25 minutes away, where a fire had already passed through.

The boss agreed and they alerted two more friends, who were “throwing s*** out their window, trying to pack up their whole house” in a bid to come with them.

FILE IMAGE of a RFS volunteer.
FILE IMAGE of a RFS volunteer. Credit: DEAN LEWINS/AAPIMAGE

Their convoy of two cars got to Cobargo about 2am on Thursday.

It was razed.

“It burnt down. There were still embers on the ground,” le Roux said.

“The ground was still pretty red. It was very smoky.”

Journey to safety

They decided “we need to get out of here”.

Destination: Canberra.

The journey was stressful.

One car was low on fuel but – despite a petrol shortage – they found an open service station.

Canberra was three hours away.

But the first 30 kilometres took that amount of time due to extreme traffic amid mass evacuations.

One of the cars overheated on the way. They had to pull over and wait for it to cool.

They made it to Canberra in 7.5 hours.

Destroyed buildings in Cobargo, NSW, Wednesday, January 1, 2020.
Destroyed buildings in Cobargo, NSW, Wednesday, January 1, 2020. Credit: SEAN DAVEY/AAPIMAGE

There, they struggled to find accommodation because “everything was pretty much booked up”, le Roux said.

Exhausted, they finally found accommodation and were able to have a good night’s rest for the first time since before New Year’s Eve having slept “maybe 10 hours” since.

Reflection

Telling of her experience, le Roux barely has the energy to reflect.

She has no ill will, regret or anger regarding her experience, but it was her “scariest ever”.

“The worst of it was (being told), ‘you need to leave now, you have 15 minutes to pack up your stuff’,” she said.

“‘Right now the fire’s 10 kilometres away and it’s big.’

‘We experienced hell and back trying to escape these fires … It was absolutely terrifying.’

“That was probably the scariest because you’re frantically packing up your stuff.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Even the locals in Bermagui had never had anything like this.

“We experienced hell and back trying to escape these fires.

“It was absolutely terrifying.

“I now know what it’s like to experience Armageddon because it was definitely hell on earth.”

Source: 7 NEWS

Sourced by Mike Barrow